Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck. Photo by John Schreiber.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck. Photo by John Schreiber.

Updated at 3:22 p.m. on Dec. 16, 2014

Saying transparency is a key to public trust in the police department, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Tuesday he wants the city to purchase 7,000 body cameras to be worn by Los Angeles police officers.

Garcetti said he plans to include funding for the cameras in his next budget proposal, and while negotiations are continuing, the cameras are expected to cost in the “high single-digit million” dollars.

He said he hopes to have the cameras by the end of the next fiscal year.

The mayor said an initial round of more than 800 Taser Axon cameras will be provided to officers in the Central, Newton and Mission divisions early next year, with funding provided by roughly $1.5 million in private donations raised by Police Commission President Steve Soboroff.

While the demand for body cameras has grown in response to outrage over the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Garcetti said he has been pushing for the devices for more than a year.

“These cameras will help law enforcement and the public alike find the truth — and truth is essential to the trust between the LAPD and the community, which has been a key factor in lower crime to record lows,” Garcetti said.

President Barack Obama recently announced that he wants $263 million in federal funds to go toward training police officers and buying body cameras to be worn by law enforcement. The request came in the wake of protests over a grand jury’s decision not to indict the white police officer who killed Michael Brown, an unarmed, 18-year-old black man, in Ferguson, Missouri.

Soboroff said earlier this month the cameras would shield both residents and police officers, and their use in other cities have been known to reduce complaints against officers by as much as 80 percent.

LAPD officials tested two brands of body cameras in recent months and recently chose the Taser body cameras, which are designed to be worn on the chest, over ones made by Coban, for use in the pilot program.

The Police Commission is expected to consider policies for using the cameras early next year, Soboroff said.

A representative of the police officers’ union said union officials are looking forward to sitting down with the city to discuss the policy, which is required as part of their bargaining agreement.

“We don’t want (the cameras) to be implemented without an agreement of what the rules are going forward,” said Peter Repovich, a member of the Los Angeles Police Protective League board of directors.

The union is in the midst of talking to the city about policies around the use of in-car digital video cameras.

With the implementation of the in-car digital video cameras delayed in recent years, Garcetti said today he is “committed to making sure (the implementation of the body cameras) is a quick process, a smooth process.”

Civil rights activist Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, called the move a step in the right direction, but not a cure-all for conflicts between police and the community.

“Body cams are a useful tool in policing, but they are not the magic answer to conflicts in encounters between police and minority civilians,” he said. “Mayor Garcetti and LAPD officials must continue to place strong emphasis on constitutional policing, zero tolerance toward abuse and strong community relations. These remain the key to good and effective police-minority community relations.”

Hector Villagra, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, agreed that the cameras “won’t solve every problem in policing,” but said the city is taking an encouraging step.

“… Having video of police officers’ interactions with the public will help hold officers accountable for misconduct, quickly exonerate officers who are wrongly accused and help the public understand the powers we give police and how we use them,” Villagra said.

He noted that the city needs to develop strong policies on how the cameras are used, to ensure officers in the field cannot have discretion to “edit on the fly” by turning the cameras off.

City Council President Herb Wesson said he expects the council to support the mayor’s funding proposal.

“I want to thank Chief (Charlie) Beck and the LAPD for embracing the transparency of on-body cameras in such a positive way,” Wesson said. “The City Council recognizes the advantages of on-body cameras and will support the funding going forward.

“Trust is hard to earn, but it can easily be lost,” he said. “With the cameras, the police and the public they encounter will be on record and accountable. This is a good thing for Los Angeles.”

Councilman Mike Bonin also weighed in, calling the proposal “a smart, forward-thinking move by the mayor.”

City News Service

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